Film programmer Natalie Erazo (all images courtesy Natalie Erazo)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate. 

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What’s your name?

Natalie Erazo

Where are you based currently? 

Brooklyn, NY

Describe who you are and what you do.

I’m a first-generation Colombian-American, brown queer film programmer and arts administrator hailing from Miami, FL, now based in Brooklyn. Currently, I serve as the Coordinator of Repertory & Specialty Film Programs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where I have organized film series and help keep our team and program tethered together. My programing interests lie in amplifying the work of Black and brown artists, queer communities, and nurturing Brooklyn community spaces. As a Gemini with many water placements, I extend a wide net in my process of learning and becoming, and am constantly thinking of ways to integrate my personal practice with healing modalities to extend care to my professional work.

Filmmakers take part in a Q&A following the narrative shorts program, organized by Natalie Erazo for BAMcinemaFest 2019

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

In November 2018, I organized my first multi-day film series at BAM, Women at Work: The Domestic Is Not Free, which spotlighted the ways women have embraced, challenged, and subverted notions of domestic work through film and video art. I was very excited to include some favorites, including Stefani Saintonge’s Fucked Like a Star and Wu Tsang’s WILDNESS, and a surprise Golden Girls episode. One highlight from the program was having an impromptu conversation with an audience member after an intimate screening of Marziyeh Meshkini’s The Day I Became a Woman, and hearing how much they were taken with the intergenerational themes and the resonance of water as a symbol in the film.

As of late, I’m celebrating the small feats of everyday life in quarantine. The city ended their organic waste recycling program a few weeks ago, due to coronavirus budget cuts, so I decided to explore some at-home composting methods. I have a very basic setup — I blend soil, leftover food scraps, and some dry foliage in a plastic bag to produce an aerobic composting method. I keep it outside my front door and turn it once a week. Its process of becoming has been calming to witness (not to mention the pleasant earthy aroma!) and I am excited to explore contactless ways of distributing to friends once it’s ready to harvest.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

Most of my close friends and colleagues are also queer so I tend to feel most affirmed and held by sharing intimate gatherings and attending events around the city with them. Lately, in quarantine, my roommates and I have been sharing Sunday night watch parties of the latest season of Vida on Starz, and honoring our collective lust for Nico and Emma’s spark.

As summer approaches, I’m also reflecting on outdoor places of gathering like Jacob Riis beach. Tourmaline posted a lovely tribute to Riis on her Instagram recently speaking about how this space “helped unlock the biggest version of [her]self,” and that really resonated with me. I’m just in awe reflecting on this place of queer joy and worship, and hope that we all get to find that momentary bliss wherever we may be right now.

Flyers from Women at Work: The Domestic Is Not Free, BAM 2018, curated by Natalie Erazo

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Like several other arts organizations, BAM continues to offer online programs as our venues remain closed, and we’ve had many people tune in from around the globe, which has prompted my team and I to think a lot about accessibility and how the virtual realm will maintain permanence in our work once we are able to gather safely again. We are encouraging ourselves to think about accessibility in our programs in terms of disability justice, confidentiality, and affordability. One suggestion has been to consider extending access to our in-venue programs through live broadcasts.

I have also been thinking about accessibility concerns, not just in art spaces. As my friend Luna Moya  has eloquently noted in their Chronicles Podcast — a podcast about disability politics from the lived perspective of two disabled Black and brown femmes, co-hosted and -produced with Yoce Saucedo — a lot of our society has been forced to reckon with the realities that many disabled and immigrant folks have already been living with for a long time. Now that it’s become an inconvenience for our ill-sustained capitalist ways of being, many organizations and institutions are reconsidering how they operate. I’m hopeful for the opportunity for change and transformation in all of this.

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

In addition to my close friends and colleagues, I am grateful for the solidarity in my film and arts community. NeXt Doc, a year-long fellowship program for emerging documentary filmmakers of color — which I was lucky to attend as a peer industry colleague last year — has been offering grants to their fellows during this time, as well as free online programs and talks. I’ve been lucky to have maintained relationships with their various fellows over the past year (you know who you are!) and continue to build with them personally and professionally. I’ve also been excited by the By Us For Us (BUFU) collective and China Residencies’ online programming project, Collective Love On Ur Desktop (CLOUD). It’s an extension of the work they have been doing for the past few years to offer accessible DIY events to queer and POC communities in NYC.

In my neighborhood, I am also deeply appreciative to the Bedstuy Strong Mutual Aid Network who mobilized very quickly in mid-March to bring support in the forms of grocery deliveries, funds, and emotional support to our community, as well as the Cuir Kitchen Brigade who have been organizing regular seedling and compost giveaways.

A sample of Natalie’s at-home composting results

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I am looking forward to tuning in to the Virtual Target First Saturday at Brooklyn Museum in June! Curator Lauren Zelaya always organizes them with great care, curiosity, and in celebration of the local queer Brooklyn community so I look forward to what is in store this time around. I may also take the opportunity to finally sit with Adrienne Marie Brown’s Pleasure Activism, which I’ve been neglecting on my bookshelf for so long. It feels appropriate for the Venus in retrograde we are now wading through.

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

In general, I think artists and art workers deserve increased transparency across the board as it relates to the sourcing and distribution of funds and compensation. Several institutions in NYC, including BAM, have unionized in the past year, and while I want to acknowledge the complexities and thorniness that can come with organizing, I think it’s indicative of a much-needed shift towards increased wages and health benefits, and improved working conditions in our respective workplaces. I think any organizing that is done at institutions should be done with great regard for their most vulnerable staff members and presenting artists, primarily being QPOC communities.

A screening at BAM

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

I witness how much of a dependency my communities and I tend to have on institutional powers to fund, exhibit, or otherwise validate our work, and wonder what an alternative could look like. One of the projects I was developing at BAM prior to COVID-19 closures was a community-led programming initiative where we would invite local artist collectives to pitch, curate, and present programs in our venues. I was very excited to see a similar initiative, 02020, launch at Performance Space New York earlier this year and hope that more institutions explore this model where possible. I also want to acknowledge the ways my communities have independently found stability and sustenance in this time — self-distribution, exchange of non-monetary goods and services, and community-produced events. I hope that we can rely on our personal systems of care, cooperative models, and mutual aid networks to continue the creative work that fulfills us.

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

I am looking forward to sharing a dinner with friends at Bunna Cafe in Bushwick, and dancing the night away at a Papi Juice party!

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.